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Thanksgiving dinner helps ASU students feel at home for the holidays

ASU students enjoy last year's Sun Devil Family Association Thanksgiving dinner
November 24, 2014

For the seventh year in succession, the Sun Devil Family Association and Arizona State University’s Off-Campus Student Services office are partnering to host a Thanksgiving feast, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., Nov. 27, for students unable to travel home for the holiday.

Robin Okun Hengl, an ASU alumnus and director of the Sun Devil Family Association (SDFA), expects as many as 500 students to sit down for the free meal. The student services office staff, SDFA scholars and parent volunteers will team up to provide a traditional dinner with all the trimmings, including leftovers.

“The Thanksgiving dinner truly resonates with our students’ parents, as well as the overall community,” says Okun Hengl, whose husband Terry has a pair of degrees from ASU, while daughters Lauren and Dana also graduated as Sun Devils.

The dinner is just one of many services provided students by the SDFA, celebrating its 30th year as a university support organization in 2014; it also offers such things as free tutoring, Early Start and Finish Line scholarships, grants designed to make life less stressful for students, a crisis fund, Homecoming Reunion and even “grandfamily” scholarships for students raised by grandparents. Each of the programs relies on private, outside support.

“All that we are able to offer students in support of their ultimate success and the impacts they will one day have on our communities comes from gifts,” says Okun Hengl, who counts some 4,000 donors who generate as much as $375,000 annually to the association. “Private support is critical to the success of our students, helping (them) achieve and succeed, to stay in school, to graduate, to plan their futures and to make a difference.”

One student who has benefited from SDFA support is Karla Esquer, a senior at ASU’s West campus who expects to receive two bachelor’s degrees, one in psychology and one in integrative studies, in May 2015. She credits the SDFA with keeping her on track and helping “evolve my student-leader career path” as president of the on-campus student Programming and Activities Board.

When Esquer suffered a knee injury after a fall off of her skateboard, the SDFA Crisis Fund stepped in to offer some help.

“During that time, I could not bring in any money to support myself,” says Esquer. “SDFA brought me the financial stability I need not only for my health, but also for my studies. Because of SDFA, I was able to focus on my schoolwork, and I kept my grades up.”

Esquer is looking forward to the day she can return the favor; what she calls a “win-win situation” to keep the support ball rolling.

Also on hand for this year’s Thanksgiving dinner will be ASU alumni Angel and Clayton Guy, to whom the event is especially significant. The Guys, whose daughter-in-law has an ASU degree and whose son is set to graduate from the university in 2015, have helped serve and encourage students since the 2011 dinner. In addition to their volunteer service at the event, they also regularly provide philanthropic support to the SDFA’s many student programs.

“The SDFA is all about student success and supporting families, and it is something that is an honor to be a part of,” says Angel. “Robin once spoke about a student who had been living out of her car who received emergency funds with the help of the SDFA, and it reminded me of my own struggles to complete my degree. It means so much to all of us to be able to give back to our students.

“It's hard to put into words what it feels like to hug a mom who is about to leave her daughter at the dorms for the first time, or what it's like to encourage a scholar with just the right words; you do feel like you've made a real, a lasting difference,” she said.

“The SDFA has a huge impact in a scholar's life, but it is difficult to accept that we cannot support all of the deserving students that apply for our scholarships,” she adds. “The Sun Devil family and our community are extremely supportive. But we need to continue to build the partnerships throughout our local and business communities.”

For more information on the Sun Devil Family Association, visit